Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, March 6, 2017


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S.C. to Decide Whether Ex-Producer’s Suit Against CNN Was a SLAPP


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The California Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a former Los Angeles-based CNN producer’s action against the network, in connection with his discharge, should have been stricken under the anti-SLAPP statute.

The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco Wednesday, unanimously granted review in Wilson v. Cable News Network, Inc. (2016) 6 Cal. App. 5th 822. The court ordered briefing deferred pending the outcome of Park v. Board of Trustees of California State University (2015) 239 Cal. App. 4th 1258.

Park was decided by Div. Four of this district’s Court of Appeal, which held that statements and written reviews made by college officials in deciding to deny tenure to an assistant professor qualified as protected conduct in an official proceeding under the anti-SLAPP statute. The court held that the gravamen of the plaintiff’s action was an attack on the tenure process rather than on alleged discrimination outside of that process.

Simultaneous with their granting of review in Wilson, however, the justices denied CNN’s request to depublish the opinion of this district’s Div. One, which held that Stanley Wilson’s action was primarily an attack on alleged discrimination and retaliation, not on newsgathering activity, and was therefore not a SLAPP. Under a recent rules amendment, the opinion can therefore be cited in litigation, although counsel must inform the court of the grant of review.

Discrimination Claim

 According to the complaint, Wilson is African-American/Latino-American and over 50 years of age, and worked for CNN from 1996 until he was fired on Jan. 28, 2014. He claimed that he was denied promotion on multiple occasions because his bureau chief preferred to promote younger Caucasians, even though they were less qualified.

CNN claimed that Wilson was fired for plagiarizing a Los Angeles Times account of an event he was assigned to cover—a 2014 press conference by then-Sheriff Lee Baca announced his impending retirement. Wilson said the plagiarism allegation was a pretext for discrimination.

Div. One, in a 2-1 decision, reversed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mel Red Recana’s order striking Wilson’s claims. Justice Elwood Lui, joined by Justice Victoria Chaney, said the suit was “not an action designed to prevent defendants from exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Presiding Justice Frances Rothschild argued in dissent that “a news organization’s employment decisions concerning a person, like Wilson, who has an undisputedly central role on the content of the news concerns an act in furtherance of the organization’s First Amendment rights and made in connection with issues of public interest.”

Other Action

In other conference action, the high court:

•Agreed to decide whether the trial court’s authority to dismiss a criminal case in furtherance of justice under Penal Code §1385 applies after the defendant has completed probation. The Third District Court of Appeal, in People v. Chavez (2016) 5 Cal. App. 5th 110, answered that question in the negative.

•Declined to review a ruling of this district’s Div. Seven that Sofia Soria, who hosted programs at Spanish-language K-Love 107.5 from 1997 to 2011, presented sufficient evidence of disability discrimination to survive her former employer’s motion for summary judgment.

The panel held, in Soria v. Univision Radio Los Angeles, Inc. (2016) 5 Cal. App. 5th 570, that circumstantial evidence supported Soria’s claim that she was fired because she had a stomach tumor and sought time off for surgery, and that the company’s claim she was fired for tardiness was pretextual. The ruling overturned summary judgment in favor of the employer.

-Agreed to decide whether, after the passage of Proposition 47, a conviction for street terrorism survives after a felony conviction that is based upon the same conduct has been reduced to a misdemeanor. This district’s Div. Six answered that question in the affirmative in People v. Valenzuela (2016) 5 Cal. App. 5th 449.


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